Yesterday I woke up late and made a delicious complete breakfast of eggs and sausage and English muffins and orange juice. We don’t usually have such an elaborate breakfast, but I needed to have a good deal of energy for the afternoon. Justin then drove us down into Savannah to the Red Cross building. They have this tiny little building that looks like it hasn’t seen updated interior decorating for about 10 years, but I imagine that’s because the money is going toward updated technologies for the donation processes and for other more noble efforts than making their building look pretty.
Anyway, I had a 1:00 appointment to donate platelets. I’ve been donating whole blood since I was in high school, and since I’m O- (the universal donor) I do try to donate when I’m able. When I called in January to set up an appointment for donating, since my availability was coming up soon, they asked if I’d be willing to donate platelets and I said I’d give it a try.
We were about 20 minutes late because of traffic and I didn’t actually get my butt in the donating chair until just about 2:00. We had to wait in the office a little for someone to be available to take me back and then had to go through the usual screening questions and checks — blood pressure, pulse, hemoglobin, etc. Everything checked out fine (my blood pressure was a little high because I was nervous, but it wasn’t so high to make me ineligible) and the nurse sent me to use the bathroom before coming back to get hooked up to the machine — because it was going to be 2 hours before I’d be able to move again.
The process for donating platelets is very different from donating whole blood. With whole blood, they stick a needle in your arm and you sit there until you’ve filled up a pint bag with blood. They bandage you up, give you snacks, and send you on your way.
With platelets, they hook you up to a machine that pulls your blood in, separates out the platelets, sticks the platelets in a bag and then sends the rest of the blood back into your arm. And it takes two hours. So you sit in this chair, being very careful not to move the arm with the needle in it because if the needle moves and the blood returning back to your arm doesn’t go back into the vein, then it’s going under your skin and that’s REALLY not comfortable. But as long as you don’t mess up and move, then it’s really super easy. They gave me headphones and a remote control to the TV and asked if I wanted to watch a movie. And I sat there watching the show and making a fist every time the machine said “draw” to keep the pressure up on my vein while it was pulling the blood out, and then relaxing when it said “return” and was sending the blood back. It was a long time sitting still and my butt was numb by the end, but otherwise, at the end of the two hours, I didn’t feel that badly.
I’ve had some trouble with donating whole blood lately — mostly psychologically, we figure — getting lightheaded and feeling a little bit faint. With the platelets process, I got cold because the blood returning wasn’t as warm as it had been when it left, and some tingling of my lips and a metallic taste in my mouth sometimes. That’s mostly because of the anticoagulant, I think they said, and it went away pretty fast after I was done. They offered me Tums, which apparently would help, but I never found it that bothersome.
Justin said my color was off when I got back out — he had to sit in the lobby the whole time, poor guy. He said I was pretty pale, so we got me some juice and snacks before leaving and then got me some hot chocolate and a hamburger on our way out of town, and by the time we got home, I was feeling a little tired, but otherwise not much effected by the whole thing.
And if I wanted, I could do it again next Saturday because you can donate platelets every 7 days.
I’m not sure if I’m going to do that, though. Partially because it’s a long time commitment; I think, all told, it was about 4 hours for us, including drive time. And while platelets are in strong demand because they have a shorter shelf life than whole blood and are important to cancer patients and burn victims, and it takes several donations of whole blood to filter out the same number of platelets, I’m not sure if it’s the best use of my ability to donate. Specifically because of the fact that I’m O-. It might be better for me to donate whole blood because it has more usability for people in need of whole blood. I need to do more research and try to figure out what is the best option for me.
Justin and I were talking about it in the car on the way home and theorized that it’s probably going to come up as a situation where one isn’t significantly better than the other. If I could commit to the time to donate platelets every week or if I could donate whole blood every 8 weeks, it’s something important to do either way. And without knowing the specific needs for the area where we live, it’s going to be impossible to really know what’s most needed, platelets or whole blood.
So maybe what I’ll do is if my donation cycle for whole blood has an extra week in between, then during that extra week, I can donate platelets and then the week after that, go donate whole blood. I’m still working out the details.
But it was an interesting experience and I thought it would be interesting to share.
The New York Blood Center put together a quick video of what it’s like to donate platelets and I’m going to throw that in here, too, so you can see what it looks like and stuff.
And I just wanted to plug this — if you’re able to donate blood or platelets, I think you really should be doing so. It’s one of those things that we can’t make in the lab and it’s an important, life-saving thing that doesn’t cost anything to give except time. Not everybody is able to do it, so those of use who can, I think, should.